Friday, June 30, 2017

Setbisio para i Publiko #35: Ingrato

Tomorrow for my free Chamorro lessons at a Hagåtña coffee shop, we'll be focusing on translating four Chamorro songs into English. The reason for this focus is that next week is the "Na'lå'la': Songs of Freedom" concert being organized by Independent Guåhan (July 4th, 2-5 pm at the Adelup Front Lawn). After the success of the Respect the Chamoru People Rally in April, our group decided to have a similar public event, although this time focus more on art, music and poetry, as opposed to speeches. To get my Chamorro students into the mood for the event (as most of them will be there or are even volunteering), I picked out four interesting songs, with various social/political messages.

One of those songs was this one, "Ingrato" a traditional song written by Tun Jose Pangelinan, but made famous by Candy Taman and the groups Tropic Sette and Chamolinian. It has a simple, yet powerful message, especially profound in times of rapid social and cultural change. As modern societies find ways to tell us to be as self-absorbed, self-obsessed and selfish as possible, this song calls on children to not be ungrateful, but to appreciate how their lives were made possible by their parents. The lyrics (despensa anggen guaha linachi, isao-hu ha'!) are below.

I've also included below a recent performance of the song by Candy Taman as part of the Dandan Marianas series on Youtube.

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Ingrato
Candy Taman
(Tun Jose Pangelinan)

I mañainå-mu todu i tiempo
Ma pulan hao puengi yan ha'åni
Ya desde hao ni mafañagu-mu
Sin håfa na fina’tånges
Ma sungon todu siha minappot
Put para un mana'dångkulo’
Ayu na hågu lokkue’ nu i patgon para i sainå-mu mungga ingrato
Ayu na hågu lokkue’ nu i patgon para i sainå-mu mungga ingrato

Atan hulo’ i pilan gi langhet
Sa mañila sumensuåbi
Ha i’ina i hemhom na chålan
Para ta li'e’ i hinaonao-ta
Kulang un saina gi famaguon
Ma pupulan maseha månu
Ayu na hågu lokkue’ nu i patgon para i sainå-mu mungga ingrato
Ayu na hågu lokkue’ nu i patgon para i sainå-mu mungga ingrato

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Na'lå'la' Concert

Independent Guåhan announces July 4th “Na’lå’la’: Songs of Freedom Concert” at Adelup

For Immediate Release, June 20, 2017 – After the success of the Respect the Chamoru People Rally in April, where more than 600 people gathered to show their support for the rights of the Chamorro people, Independent Guåhan is organizing the first of its “Na’lå’la’: Songs of Freedom Concert” series. This concert will take place on July 4th, 2017 from 2:00 - 5:00 P.M. at Adelup Field, and is free and open to the public.

Independent Guåhan is an organization that is committed to educating the island community about the importance of Guam’s decolonization and the possibilities should it become an independent country. The organization has spent the past year organizing General Assemblies, teach-ins, petition drives, coffee shop conversations, and podcasts. This concert represents another phase in community outreach, using creative performances to inspire the island community to imagine a different future for Guam.

More than a dozen young artists will be performing under the theme of “Music, Poetry, Knowledge and Freedom.” Confirmed performers include Difendi, Patrick Palomo, Shannon McManus, Stacia Guzman, and Matt Sablan. Each performance will connect to the overall theme of freedom, liberation, and working to create a better and more independent future for Guam. This reflects the spirit of “Na’lå’la’” or “to give life” in which the concert series is named. The concert is an expression of our determination to give life to a decolonized future. In addition to the live performances, there will also be informational booths, providing educational materials from various community groups.

This Fourth of July, Independent Guåhan invites the island community to come together to not celebrate the independence of another, but rather reflect on the need for our own decolonization.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Hong Kong of the Present/Future

I took this picture of the Hong Kong skyline while atop Victoria Peak, while I was there last week. 

Being in Hong Kong I was reminded of Carlton Skinner, who was the first civilian governor of Guam during the time of the passage of the Organic Act. 

Skinner is an interesting figure in Guam history, someone who was of critical importance, but who has received little to no attention from the island (save for a plaza that was named for him, that was demolished to make way for the Guam Museum). 

He had been a progressive person for his time, helping to racially integrate units for the US Navy during World War II. 

He sometimes joked that he must have gotten the job as Governor of Guam because it was an island filled with brown people and he had captained ships fill with black people. 

He is known for helping set up the local government, but also facilitating the legalization of the illegal land-takings by the US military during the immediate postwar years. 
 
While serving as governor, he famously gave a speech titled "Guam, The Hong Kong of the Future." 

Although the island had been given limited self-government, there still existed a security clearance, where the US Navy could dictate who or what could enter or leave the island. 

Carlton Skinner recognized so long as this was in place, Guam could never realize its full potential economically. 

The speech touched on the notion that when Guam was able to finally be released from undo US federal or military interference, it could take advantage of its location and prosper like other ports in the world. 

The security clearance of that era is gone, but other restrictions still persist.

Independent Guåhan June General Assembly


Independent Guåhan’s June General Assembly focuses on issue of military dumping and vandalism in the village of Toto

For Immediate Release, June 20, 2017 –
Independent Guåhan (IG) has continued to bring decolonization outreach and education to Guam’s villages with two successful forums in Malesso’ and Chalan Pågo. This month’s General Assembly (GA) will be at the Toto Community Center on June 29, from 6:00 -7:30 p.m. The focus this month is on the troubling history of military dumping on Guam and also creative ways communities can deal with problems such as vandalism and crime.

Each meeting, IG honors a Maga’taotao, or outstanding person. This month the group will honor the legacy of Tan Deda, or Magdalena S.N. Bayani, a war survivor, master techa and pillar of the M-T-M community who passed away recently. IG honors the strength and perseverance of Tan Deda and all other war survivors as June 28 is Guam War Survivors Memorial Day.

In analyzing the impacts of World War II on Chamorros and their lands, the educational discussion for this month’s GA will focus on postwar military contamination and how it has affected our health and environment. Looking to the future, the educational presentation will focus on how we can conceive of independence through village-based approaches, much like the models of sustainability practiced by Chamorros in the past. Examples of how an independent Guåhan can use programs such as community gardens to decrease crime and vandalism will be proposed.

This month’s assembly continues a village-based outreach initiative, where the group brings informational resources and critical conversations about independence as a political status option directly into the island’s villages.

Independent Guåhan’s monthly General Assemblies are always held on the last Thursday of each month.

Friday, June 23, 2017

#TCMAGA

"Donald Trump Has No Plan to Make America Great Again"
by Derek Thompson
The Atlantic
June 7, 2017

It’s “Infrastructure Week” at the White House. Theoretically.

On Monday, the administration announced a plan to spend $200 billion on infrastructure and overhaul U.S. air traffic control. There was a high-profile signing in the East Wing before dozens of cheering lawmakers and industry titans. It was supposed to be the beginning of a weeklong push to fix America’s roads, bridges, and airports.

But in the next two days, Trump spent more energy burning metaphorical bridges than trying to build literal ones. He could have stayed on message for several hours, gathered Democrats and Republicans to discuss a bipartisan agreement, and announced a timeframe. Instead he quickly turned his attention to Twitter to accuse media companies of “Fake News” while undermining an alliance with Qatar based on what may be, fittingly, a fake news story.

It’s a microcosm of this administration’s approach to public policy. A high-profile announcement, coupled with an ambitious promise, subsumed by an unrelated, self-inflicted public-relations crisis, followed by … nothing.

The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump’s term in a unified Republican government, Trump’s policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

Consider the purported focus of this week. An infrastructure plan ought to include actual proposals, like revenue-and-spending details and timetables. The Trump infrastructure plan has little of that. Even the president’s speech on Monday was devoid of specifics. (An actual line was: “We have studied numerous countries, one in particular, they have a very, very good system; ours is going to top it by a lot.”) The ceremonial signing on Monday was pure theater. The president, flanked by politicians and businesspeople smiling before the twinkling of camera flashes, signed a paper that merely asks Congress to work on a bill. An assistant could have done that via email. Meanwhile, Congress isn’t working on infrastructure at all, according to Politico, and Republicans have shown no interest in a $200 billion spending bill.

In short, this “plan” is not a plan, so much as a Potemkin policy, a presentation devised to show the press and the public that the president has an economic agenda. The show continued on Wednesday, as the president delivered an infrastructure speech in Cincinnati that criticized Obamacare, hailed his Middle East trip, and offered no new details on how his plan would work. Infrastructure Week is a series of scheduled performances to make it look as if the president is hard at work on a domestic agenda that cannot move forward because it does not exist.

Journalists are beginning to catch on. The administration’s policy drought has so far been obscured by a formulaic bait-and-switch strategy one could call the Two-Week Two-Step. Bloomberg has compiled several examples of the president promising major proposals or decisions on everything from climate-change policy to infrastructure “in two weeks.” He has missed the fortnight deadline almost every time.

The starkest false promise has been taxes. “We’re going to be announcing something I would say over the next two or three weeks,” Trump said of tax reform in early February. Eleven weeks later, in late April, the White House finally released a tax proposal. It was hardly one page long.

Arriving nine weeks late, the document was so vague that tax analysts marveled that they couldn’t even say how it would work. Even its authors are confused: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has repeatedly declined to say whether the plan will cut taxes on the rich, even though cutting taxes on the rich is ostensibly the centerpiece. Perhaps it’s because he needs more help: None of the key positions for making domestic tax policy have been filled. There is no assistant secretary for tax policy, nor deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis, according to the Treasury Department.

Once again, the simplest summary of White House tax policy is: There is no plan. There isn’t even a complete staff to compose one.

The story is slightly different for the White House budget, but no more favorable. The budget suffers, not from a lack of details, but from a failure of numeracy that speaks to the administration’s indifference toward serious public policy. The authors double-counted a projected benefit from higher GDP growth, leading to $2 trillion math error, perhaps the largest ever in a White House proposal. The plan included hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from the estate tax, which appears to be another mistake, since the White House has separately proposed eliminating it.

Does the president’s budget represent what the president’s policies will be? It should, after all. But asked this very question, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, made perhaps the strangest claim of all: “I wouldn’t take what’s in the budget as indicative of what our proposals are,” he said.

This haphazard approach extends to the repeal of Obamacare, which may yet pass the Senate, but with little help or guidance from the president. Trump has allowed House Speaker Paul Ryan to steer the Obamacare-replacement bill, even though it violates the president’s campaign promises to expand coverage and protect Medicaid. After its surprising passage in the House, he directly undercut it on Twitter by suggesting he wants to raise federal health spending. Even on the most basic question of health-care policy—should spending go up, or down?—the president’s Twitter account and his favored law are irreconcilable. A law cannot raise and slash health care funding at the same time. The Trump health care plan does not exist.

It would be a mistake to call this a policy-free presidency. Trump has signed several executive orders undoing Obama-era regulations, removing environmental protections, and banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries. He has challenged NATO and pulled out of the Paris Accords. But these accomplishments all have one thing in common: Trump was able to do them alone. Signing executive orders and making a speech don’t require the participation of anybody in government except for the president.

It’s no surprise that a former chief executive of a private company would be more familiar with the presumption of omnipotence than the reality of divided powers. As the head of his own organization, Trump could make unilateral orders that subordinates would have to follow. But passing a law requires tireless persuasion and the cooperation of hundreds of representatives in the House and Senate who cannot be fired for insubordination. Being the president of the United States is nothing like being a CEO, especially not one of an eponymous family company.

Republicans in the House and Senate don’t need the president’s permission to write laws, either. Still, they too have struggled to get anything done. Several GOP senators say they may not repeal Obamacare this year—or ever. It is as if, after seven years of protesting Obamacare, the party lost the muscle memory to publicly defend and enact legislation.

In this respect, Trump and his party are alike—united in their antagonism toward Obama-era policies and united in their inability to articulate what should come next. Republicans are trapped by campaign promises that they cannot fulfill. The White House is trapped inside of the president’s perpetual campaign, a cavalcade of economic promises divorced from any effort to detail, advocate, or enact major economic legislation. With an administration that uses public policy as little more than a photo op, get ready for many sequels to this summer’s Infrastructure Week.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fanhokkåyan #5: Chamorro Soul Wound

Fanhokkåyan is my series where I share articles, writings and other documents from some of my previous websites, most notably the Kopbla Amerika/Chamorro Information Activist website and Minagahet Zine. The one I'm sharing today is an intriguing one, as it represents a piece that helped shape alot of my own perceptions as an early activist about Chamorro issues, in particular their relationship to colonial legacies. This piece, which I co-wrote with a friend of mine at the time, built off the idea of "soul wound" a theory that was first popularized in considering the contemporary place of Native Americans in relation to their historical (or continuing) trauma. It is far too easy for us to argue that we shouldn't be stuck in the past by recounting how Chamorros have been hurt by colonizers, that is a common interpassive point. In truth, we need to recount it and we need to understand it, most importantly so that we can change things today, so that we can reshape the present in ways to release ourselves from the system formed on that oppression.

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Chamorro Soul Wound
by Kopbla

Chamorus are an endangered species, and actually have been for centuries. 

Under Spanish domination Chamorus faced extinction primarily at the hands of disease and war. Historical records and estimates put the depopulation of Chamorus at the end of the 17th century, and the beginning of the 18th century at as much as 95%. The culture itself was given a traumatic shock, as Catholicism was forced down the throats and into the homes and minds of the Chamorus. But still, we survived and we persevered, assimilating and adopting what we needed to survive, refusing what we didn't need.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new threat made landfall on Guam with the arrival of US control. But this time, the assault was hardly physical, but operated on a more psychological level, attacking the natural feelings of unity and community that Chamorus have felt since ever since. The 100+ years of Americanization and US colonialism/ militarism on Guam have ravaged Chamoru identity to the point where many Chamorus are convinced of the non-existence of Chamoru culture as well as Chamorus.

The American presence and control of Guam has brought benefits, undoubtedly. Without the American takeover of Guam in 1898, Guam would propably not have the dubious honor of being  a tourist paradise and a military bastion. It probably wouldn't be one of the most modernized and consumeristic islands in the Pacific either. On the basis of short-term progress, the United States has helped immensely by "giving" Guam a government, by assisting economically, and by providing defense. Again, it cannot be denied that the US has done much for Guam. But there are many other things that must not be denied as well. 

On the most basic level, we must remember that colonialism is wrong, and a colonial relationship is an inherently unfair one and unequal one, based on exploitation. I reiterate again, that this relationship although wrong, is not without its positive bonuses. The most effective forms of control and power, are ones which produce as much as they prohibit. This is the premise that the matrix of the "Matrix" films operates on. A system of control which only prohibits, which only dominates can never be effective. The "free" world of the matrix was then created, and it works because of the illusions it uses, the myths it propagates that make the humans of the film believe they are truly free, and truly in control. 

While not nearly as dramatic, but nonetheless traumatic in its own way, on Guam we find ourselves victims to a similar fate, whether we accept it or not. The colonial "domination with benefits" relationship Guam has with the United States is the hub of the illusions that govern our daily lives. And while this itself is something which must be corrected, another dimension of the problem that is hardly realized is the psychological and cultural damage that has come from our colonization by the United States. 

In the spring 1989 issues of Ethnies, Dr. Robert Underwood chronicles the efforts of Chamorus on Guam in attempting to legitimize the teaching of Chamoru in public schools. Underwood discusses this push and analyzes it based on the philosophies and ideologies that are invoked in order to justify the move.  He mentions the "rhetoric of American cultural pluralism, "and how under this multi-cultural umbrella having an ethnic identity and still being an American is allowed. You can still speak your language, still practice your culture, be proud of your heritage and continue to be a proud American. This idea of Chamorus just becoming another thread in the beautiful American multi-cultural, multi-colored tapestry, while holding some promise, holds a far more serious danger. 

Because of our unique history, America has clouded our consciousness for more than a century. The colonization of Guam has left Chamoru ideas of value and culture fairly skewed. If we think about our day to day operations and interactions, how much does America occupy our lives? Far more than it probably should. The position of America as our colonizer has given it a status far greater than it deserves and it is not natural, but all part of a colonial process. When we examine Guam's history, this process becomes apparent and we can see it for what it is, just another form of colonialism and control, conditioning our minds into thinking within certain frameworks. Once this is known, the cracks in our own perceptions begin to show, as well as the cracks in our colonial history and consciousness. 

Take for example, an editorial published in the September 15th, 2001 Pacific Daily News by Tony Sanchez, "So what do we do? We do what America and Guam have always done. We pull together. We do our jobs better. We raise our children better. We help our neighbor more. We argue less; we compromise more. We face the stark reality of the world we live in with eyes wide open. We cannot afford to be divisive. Not today." This dependency on the rhetoric, the discourse of the US comes out in so many ways. In the above quote, we find that nearly everything positive about life is hooked into our relationship with the US. Why is it that a Chamoru alone can't raise their children right, or do their jobs better? So much of our lives and culture has been hijacked by the colonial appropriations. And often times it is so subtle we don't even realize what we've said, what we've done or what we've believed.

The idea of "privatization" of GovGuam is one form in this which is acted out, whereby the process of overvaluing of the US at the expense of ourselves becomes apparent.  It is not that privatization has no merit, or is wrong, but what we need to look at, is the demeaning way we degrade ourselves in asking for it, demanding it, or discussing it. The very public and vocal push for privatization is no doubt a symptom of a colonial disease Chamorus on Guam have been infected with for more than a century; chronic romantic dreams of America. As Congressman Robert Underwood has put it many times, Guam and the other US territories are the only places in the United States that ever call for "federalization," or for "calling in the feds" to undermine local power, authority and dignity.  

The American dream in the form of our conscious reality  hangs over our heads as this pristine ideal, that we must live up to, or that we must emulate. Our government, our culture, our way of life are seen as inferior to our American role models. But this is one way in which colonialism works, by creating Manichean, or black/white oppositions, and creating in the colonized the perception that while they belong to the inferior side of the spectrum (the black side), they must desire what is on the superior side, or the white side. And this cultural inferiority complex has led many Chamorus to downplay the importance of their own culture, forsake their language, leave the island in search for a "better life" in the US. 

This is all not to say that a Chamoru cannot have an American passport, or have indoor plumbing, or go to movie theatres. Cultures change, they stay the same, they preserve and they adapt, that is their natural flow (anyone who believes in constantly evolving cultures or constantly static cultures, is only describing the half of the equation which proves their point). In the past couple centuries however, issues of purity in blood and culture have become means by which Chamoru sentiments can be controlled or dispelled. But those feelings were hardly given a second thought on Guam prior to 1898, as Chamoru culture was seen as something that went beyond blood, into feelings of community, unity, respect and care for the island, the land or your family. Any percentage of blood guaranteed you a spot in the family, so long as your mind was rooted in the community, the family (this doesn't mean it was a utopia or paradise, but just that issues of ethnicity weren't so complicated). From Loincloth Envy, by Michael Lujan Bevacqua: 

...the beauty of Chamoru culture as
This wonderfully inclusive exclusive
Where membership is not mired in tired issues of blood quantum quantities
But has something more to do with commitment to culture
Devotion to the island and its people
Respect for each other and the land language love life that binds us together

The presence of America here, has greatly disrupted that sense of identity, by usurping the core being of Chamorus, and replacing their mental presence here, with a desire, a longing for the states, or for the promise of the states. This would be fine if Guam was part of the United States, or had achieved some serious level of equality with their Mother Country. But a central issue here, which cannot be forgotten or denied, is that Chamorus are not truly part of America, especially if they remain on Guam. And the relinquishing of your identity, your offering of it to America on a silver platter, means an acceptance of the inferior status that we have been given. If Chamorus were granted their rights to self-determination as well as self-government, then this shift wouldn't be nearly as polemic, but because it comes with a heavy dose of colonialism it is something we must constantly critique. 

Chamorus have adopted much of America into their culture and we must remember that this is natural for cultures to adapt and to change, but when the identity of a culture comes into question, that is when we must re-examine everything.  

What is also important to note here, is the way in which the cultural argument is used against Chamorus, used against any colonized people. Cultures are naturally both fluid and static, constantly changing, but constantly resisting change as well. For indigenous cultures however, and in particular those under colonial control, the idea of cultural change becomes a hotly contested issue, particularly for those who protect the interests of the colonial power.  For Chamorus, the dynamic has always depended on obedience to America. So long as Chamorus remain loyal and silent and serve American interests, they are externally and internally portrayed as a people with a rich and wonderful culture, with a rich and wonderful history.  But the moment they begin to construct themselves, or see themselves as something other than American, or separate from America, they become a bastard race, an impure culture, they become non-existent. Their very Chamoruness comes into question, the moment they think of themselves as Chamorus first, and American second, or any other context in which the supposedly inferior side of the equation is put as greater than the supposedly superior side. Another form of control comes with ideas of culture as being static. Chamorros themselves are plagued with perceptions of their culture as being more pure, or more Chamoru at some other point in their history, but never in the present. Whether 400 years ago, or prior to World War II, the perception is that the "real" Chamoru culture existed somewhere back there, and what we are stuck with at present is either tainted and hardly Chamoru or not Chamoru at all. 

What this all alludes to is a dire need for us as a people to stop importing ideologies or ideas about culture and about Chamoru, and begin take control of our history, discourse and ideas once again. We are not an inferior people, nor are we an immature people, we never have been. Those discourses are just ways of controlling us. America and Americana can be so oppressive in such completely undiscussed ways, we don't even know how to describe the oppression adequately. Sometimes pieces simply don't fit, and all that's left is a feeling of intense or lingering incompleteness. But on Guam, how do we discuss these things? How do we discuss ideas of oppression when we are oppressed by a country which loudly proclaims to all who will and won't listen that it is the champion of democracy? How do we reconcile all these contradictions? There are no simple answers for such questions... 

Mensåhi Ginen i Gehilo' #25: Hagåtña, 1899

I'm working on an exhibit for Humanities Guåhan, and its put me back into researcher/scholar mode. I've been pouring through books and reports for the past week looking for various bits and pieces of information. Part of this meant re-reading some books and archival documents I hadn't touched in over a decade. Given the way in which conversations over decolonization and self-government have begun to take on a new character lately, I was particularly attracted to passages that can help me or others reflect on our development over time, how far Chamorros and Guam may have come, or haven't, especially in the context of their political connection to the US.

There are many ways that we can say that Guam has changed over the past 500 years or over the past 100 years. As we remain in the era of American colonialism, I am mostly concerned with the impact of the US and its policies. As I have written about in a variety of ways, these changes are tangible and very real, but also amount to a shifting of the surface of the political relationship between Guam and its colonizer. The island is not ruled over by Naval commanders anymore. Chamorros have at least the semblance of everyday rights unlike in the past. But the basic legal decisions and policies are still in place, they haven't changed. That is why it is so ridiculous that as a territory, we invest our energy in pretending that we are just like any other part of the United States, rather than learning about our real position, so that we have a basic ability to understand it and possibly change it.

In 1899, Chamorros sat on the edge of a new era of their history. After hundreds of years of largely being shut out of the governing of their island, the old colonizer was leaving and a new, ambitious one, that seemed to smell of freedom and new opportunities was arriving. Chamorros would debate at the time over whether it would have been better to stay under the Spanish or eagerly accept the new colonizer. The rhetoric of the US, its branding as being a place of democracy and liberty found its way into the debate, although it soon proved laughable, as the US didn't bring either democracy or liberty to Guam, but instead five decades of military government.

Below is a list of Chamorros who were employed by that US Naval government when it was first established in 1899. They represented a generation that hoped that their people would have new opportunities under the new regime and for some became far more patriotically attached to the new master than most of their brethren. Their patriotism wouldn't be repaid in their own lifetimes, as Chamorros only received a modicum of self-government after World War II. But the larger vision of Chamorros gaining respect and a chance at real self-government still has yet to be realized.

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Atanasio Perez, official translator
Nicolas Lazaro, record keeper
Lorenzo Franquez (town crier), captain of the militia
Pedro Namauleg, leper hospital assistant
Juan de Torres, paymaster
Joaquin Diaz, chief clerk
Manual Untalan, clerk
Demetrio Quitugua, Agaña city clerk
Vicente Camacho, assistant registrar
Juan del Rosario, Agaña jailer

Friday, June 16, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #17: Militarization and Decolonization

At this year's Regional Seminar for the Committee of 24 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, attendees were treated to two presentations by experts on decolonization from the UN perspective. I'll discuss both presentations through my "Decolonization in the Caribbean" posts, but today I wanted to focus on the remarks from Dr. Carlyle Corbin, from the US Virgin Islands, who is a longtime ally with Guam and the Chamorro people in their struggle for self-determination.

He offered a number of recommendations that the Committee could take up in terms of moving ahead with its mission of eradicating colonialism from the world and assisting the remaining non-self-governing territories. What is refreshing in terms of the seminar overall is the way it mixes scholars and experts with diplomats or government reps. The debate or discussions between country representatives and committee members tends to move in familiar and sometimes frustrating directions. Regardless of what is the substance of the seminar, certain countries tend to make the same points every year, only changing things as their diplomatic relationships change. This means that certain non-self-governing territories get a great deal of attention, usually because of the way sovereign control or rights between nations is being contested, but others are mentioned, are afforded a minute amount of space and then quickly cast aside.

This year there was a bit of urgency in finding some way to break the deadlock over decolonization, where not a single colony has been formally moved to self-government in close to two decades (the last being Timor Leste). At each seminar the experts offer innovative means of accomplishing this, but it is usually lost in the shuffle of diplomatic sparing or posturing.

A case in point this year was with Carlyle's intervention, which addressed a number of problematic issues that are taking place in the non-self-governing territories, which the UN and the C24 should have an interest in, but have long left unattended. The one which has always been an issue in the case of Guam, but is rarely attended to, is the issue of the US militarization or increasing of its military presence in its colonies. The UN resolutions have been very clear since the 1960s, that those who have colonies must not allow excess immigration of militarization to their possessions, as these policies will most likely become severe detriments to decolonization. In Guam, we can see this quite clearly, both in terms of Chamorros becoming a minority, where the US uses the impact of its own policies to justify the erasure of Chamorro rights, and also the increased strategic value, which becomes its own reason not to allow any political status change to the island.

I wrote about this last year in my Guam Daily Post column after a series of discussions in the Commission on Decolonization went nowhere in this very point. International conventions on this issue are clear, but locally it is not something people wish to discuss because of the way it may appear to be anti-American or not patriotic. Internationally other countries don't want to address it because of the way it may inhibit their own ability to militarize their territories or the way it may put them in the cross-hairs of the US diplomatically. But it is still a very important point that must be made repeatedly, as it is not something in the past that cannot be changed. It is something that continues to happen, a convention meant to protect the colonized people of the world, in this case the Chamorros, but is continually ignored.

I've pasted my column here for you to read. 

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“To Militarize, or to Decolonize?”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
June 1, 2016
The Guam Daily Post

On August 28, 2015 the Department of Defense signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for their proposed military buildup to Guam. The military buildup and its impact on Guam has long been a topic of public debate. What has often been lost in the discussion of socioeconomic and environmental impacts is what effect a military increase of this magnitude may have on the Chamorro quest for self-determination and the decolonization of Guam.

Since 2011 I have been a member of the Commission on Decolonization, and although many people might think of issues of self-determination and military increases as being separate, we should think of them as being more closely connected. The overall mission of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the island community on issues of political status, in particular related to the holding of a political status plebiscite in which those who are legally qualified will vote on one of three future political statuses for Guam (integration, free association or independence). But how does our value as a base affect the willingness or unwillingness of our colonizer to support us in our decolonization?  

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all colonial powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to deemphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. The expansion of bases and the establishing of new training areas as outlined in the ROD is precisely the type of increased military presence the United Nations has long cautioned against. The United Nations has also cautioned countries like the United States from using their colonies in offensive wars or actions against other nations as this could potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization. To illustrate this point the more that Guam is used for American military saber rattling in the Asia-Pacific region, the more it becomes a target for enemies of the United States today and should it ever achieve another political status.

The Department of Defense is aware of this concern and has acknowledged the potential for their military buildup to affect certain Chamorro issues or concerns, such as decolonization in their military buildup environmental impact studies. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

For those who think these matters are separate or that one doesn’t affect the other, that simply isn’t true. Our strategic military value to the United States has long affected what we can and cannot get from the United States. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gaige Yu' Giya Hong Kong

Gaige yu' giya Hong Kong para este na simåna.

Guaha konferensia guini, ya hami yan si Isa para bei in fama'nu'i.

Bai hu fannge' siempre put i hinanao-hu.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lumi'of Yu'


Lumi’of yu’ gi tasi
Tahdong, tahdongña ki hu hongge
Mañodda’ yu’ tahgong
Gi sen manengheng na unai
Annai hu chule’ gui’ hulo’ para i sakmån-hu
Hu pega gui’ kontra i talanga’-hu
I fetgon pinachå-ña mamesña ki hu hongge
Ya hu hungok
Kumunananaf hulo’ i kantå-mu
A’gangña ki i hesguan binibon tåsi
Tinektoktok ni’ pappa’ påkyo’
Ya hu tungo’ na gaisiente este na kånta
Tahdongña ki hu hongge

Dumesnik hao gi me’nå-hu
Ma’lakña ki i langhet
Mañiñila ni’ mit chålan na puti’on

**********************

I dove into the ocean
Deep, deeper than I believed
I found a shell
In the freezing cold sand
And when I took it back up to my canoe
I placed it against my ear
The wet touch sweeter than I believed
And I heard
Your song crawling up
Louder than the jealous fury of the ocean
Embraced by the wings of a storm
And I know that this song has feeling
Deeper than I believed

You appeared before me
Brighter than the sky
Illuminated by a thousand thousand stars


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Decolonization in the Pacific #16: Free At Last

In the middle of this year's regional seminar of the UN C24, the proceedings stopped briefly in order to recognize the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a long-time Puerto Rican political prisoner. Rivera was part of the Puerto Rican independence group named FALN, which was involved in more than 100 bombings around the US during the 1970s. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy along with other crimes and spent 35 years in prison. Rivera has been mentioned each year I have attended the regional seminar, as some Latin American countries feel a strong sense of solidarity with Puerto Rico and its independence activists, and therefore consider his case to be that of a political prisoner or a prisoner of war, who should have been subject to international court proceedings, as he was fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico from US colonial control.

Vilma Reveron, who frequently attends the seminars to discuss the state of affairs in Puerto Rico made the announcement and held up her laptop on which was an image of Rivera after being freed. The seminar attendees all rose and cheered his release.

Below is the interview he did earlier this week with Democracy Now!

*************************** 

After 35 years of Prison, Puerto Rican Activist Oscar Lopez Rivera on Freedom and Decolonization
June 8, 2017
Democracy Now!

We are joined in studio by longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for about 35 years—much of the time in solitary confinement—before President Obama commuted his sentence in January. On May 17, 2017, less than a month ago, López Rivera was released. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leader of the pro-independence group FALN. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges including seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force. López Rivera describes his time in prison, his youth in Chicago and how he became politicized. He also comments on Puerto Rico’s current political crisis and says as long as Puerto Rican youth are "struggling and doing something for the economy, doing something for themselves, doing something for Puerto Rico, there is hope." We also speak with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, who was part of the campaign to free López Rivera.
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
 
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today we spend the hour with longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was in prison for more than 35 years, much of the time in solitary confinement, before President Obama commuted his sentence in January. On May 17th, 2017, less than a month ago, López Rivera was released. Today he joins us in our New York studio.

Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, and moved with his family to Chicago when he was a boy. He was drafted into the Army at age 18 and served in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. Upon his return in 1967, he became a community organizer who fought for bilingual education, jobs and better housing.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leader of the pro-independence group FALN, the armed liberation—the Forces of Armed National Liberation. Its members set more than a hundred bombs, including one attack on Fraunces Tavern in New York City that killed four people. He was never charged, however, with setting those bombs. Instead, in 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges that included seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force. In fact, seditious conspiracy is the same charge Nelson Mandela faced. López Rivera described his charges in a rare prison interview in 2006.
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I think that the fact that I was charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States speaks for itself. But the charge in reference to Puerto Ricans has always been used for political purposes. It goes back to 1936. The first time that a group of Puerto Ricans was put in prison was by using the seditious conspiracy charge. And this is—has always been a strictly political charge used against Puerto Ricans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of the FALN, but López Rivera refused at that time to accept the deal because it did not include two fellow activists, who have since been released.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Oscar López Rivera’s first visit to New York City since his release last month, and it coincides with New York’s long-standing Puerto Rican Day Parade, which always takes place on the second Sunday of June. This year’s organizers chose to honor López Rivera as the parade’s first "National Freedom Hero." This prompted the city’s police chief and a number of corporate sponsors to boycott the event, including Goya Foods, Coca-Cola, Univision and Telemundo. As Juan reported in his column for the New York Daily News, a boycott campaign to condemn López Rivera as a terrorist "was quietly organized by a right-wing conservative group in Washington, D.C., the Media Research Center, that receives major funding from donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News," unquote. Well, Oscar López Rivera says he will still march, but not as an official honoree, simply as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.

Over the years, one of Oscar López Rivera’s strongest supporters has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On Wednesday, Tutu issued a statement in support of his participation in the parade, noting, quote, "Had South Africans and people of the African diaspora allowed others to determine who we would embrace, Mandela would still be in prison and have been stripped of the stature we gave him and that he deserved," unquote.

All of this comes as Puerto Rico is in the midst of a bankruptcy process and is preparing to hold a referendum on its political future on Sunday—the same day as the parade.

For more, we’re joined in studio by Oscar López Rivera. While in prison, he wrote two books, Between Torture and Resistance and Letters to Karina. We’re also joined by Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Oscar López Rivera, how does it feel to be free?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: It feels wonderful. It feels completely, completely different than being in prison. For the first time, I can hear the roosters sing early in the morning. I can see—I can see my family. I can see my friends. I can see my granddaughter. I recently went to California just to spend a few days with her. I can move around Puerto Rico. So it feels wonderful. It feels a world completely, completely different than the world of prisons.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And all of these years that you were not only in prison, but in solitary for a good portion of that time, I’m wondering: Did you have an expectation that you would eventually be freed? And was it a surprise when, in early—early this year, you finally got the word that President Obama had commuted your sentence?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, one of the things that I never allowed myself to do was to fall into what I call illusory optimism. You know, so I tried my best to keep my hope that I will come out of prison, but at the same time prepare for the worst. So, on May—on January 17th, when President Obama commuted my sentence and I was told that my sentence had been commuted, my reaction was not one that was expected, because I was prepared for the worst. And it took me about four days to really, really realize that I was on my way out of prison. But it was not a very, very exciting moment when I was told that President Obama had commuted my sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this wasn’t the first commutation. I mean, Bill Clinton also did this, along with a number of your compatriots—right?—16 Puerto Rican independence activists. But you chose not to leave at that time. You could have left more than a decade ago, two decades ago.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I believe in principles, and I have never left anyone behind, whether it was in Vietnam, whether it was in the city of Chicago, whether it was in Puerto Rico. And for me, it was important to stay in prison while two of my co-defendants were in prison. Both of them came out by 2010. Both of them were out of prison. And finally, on May 17th, I was finally, finally out of prison. The sentence was commuted the 17th of January, but I had to be under home confinement until May 17th. So, it was May 17th when I started to walk on the streets of Puerto Rico and to enjoy Puerto Rico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Juan Cartagena, I wanted to ask you about the campaign to free Oscar López Rivera, because it really included the—a cross-section of all political persuasions, religious groups in Puerto Rico, and it lasted for a long time. I remember when we were covering the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, there was a very strong contingent from Chicago and other cities that had come to demonstrate at the Democratic convention about the issue of finally freeing him. Your sense of the importance of that campaign?

JUAN CARTAGENA: Oh, critically important. Many of us thought that one last hope would have been the Obama administration. Like we were hoping for a long time that the president, Obama, would actually commute his sentence. We were—I was following how President Obama was eulogizing Nelson Mandela when he went to the wake in South Africa, talking about how, by freeing Mandela, the system also freed itself. And in many ways, we kept—I kept using that, and others kept using that kind of quote.

We also recognized that this—this incredible unity that happened in Puerto Rico is hardly ever seen that many times, right? In my own lifetime, I’ve seen it around Vieques. But rarely have we seen so many political parties, so many faith, union members and activists of all persuasions, of all types, really line up to make sure that Oscar López Rivera was freed, and, you know, have the happiness, the joy and the pride that we have that we finally we were able to achieve that, because, as he said, he’s a man of principle, and to work on behalf of a man of principle has always been an honor.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with Juan Cartagena, who’s president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, and with Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rican independence activist, freed last month after serving 35 years in prison. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "From a Bird the Two Wings" by Pablo Milanés, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rican independence activist, freed last month after serving 35 years in prison. We’re also joined by Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice. This is the time here in New York City that the Puerto Rican Day Parade is taking place on Sunday. It is also the day, Sunday, that the Puerto Rican referendum will take place in Puerto Rico. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Oscar, I’d like to ask you about how you see Puerto Rico now, having come out of prison. The last time you were there was over 35 years ago, and now you’re seeing a situation with total economic collapse and bankruptcy, an imposed control board by Congress. What do you see as the situation on the island right now and how it could possibly get out of its enormous crisis?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Puerto Rico is suffering an enormous crisis. Puerto Rico, as I see it, has been set up in a way that there is no way for Puerto Rico to lift itself up economically. First of all, the junta de fiscal control, fiscal control board, has already spent a lot of money without offering Puerto Rico any—any remedy to resolve its economic problem. What it has done thus far is extract money from programs such as the University of Puerto Rico, such as the public education system and other—pensions from workers, that will definitely, definitely make Puerto Rico’s economy worse, much worse than it was last year or the year before. And Puerto Rico cannot—cannot pay that debt. It’s impossible for Puerto Rico to pay a debt, except if every dollar, every last dollar, that the Puerto Rican worker has in his pocket is taken out of his pocket. That is the reality from the economic point of view.

Besides that, we have a government in Puerto Rico, a colonial government in Puerto Rico, that has no way—offer any incentives to the Puerto Rican people. On the contrary, it offers incentives to foreigners to invest in Puerto Rico. Whoever—whoever invests in Puerto Rico is not a Puerto Rican. What happens is that the money that is made in Puerto Rico is taken out of Puerto Rico. That money does not stay in Puerto Rico. It does not help the economy of Puerto Rico. So, my way of looking at it is, Puerto Rico is in trouble economically, and the junta de control fiscal, the control board, that is imposed or has been imposed on Puerto Rico, is really a detrimental—I will dare say, a criminal—act on the Puerto Rican people.

Now, there other things in Puerto Rico that I see being positive. For example, I see the students at the university struggling. I see the university—the students at the university trying to do something to preserve or at least protect the university. That is positive. The youth, the Puerto Rican youth, represent the future of Puerto Rico. And as long as they are struggling and doing something for the economy, doing something for themselves, doing something for Puerto Rico, there is hope.

There is also one—another element that I see. Puerto Rico, as has been mentioned, is going into or is celebrating a plebiscite, another—another colonial act. And to justify what? Puerto Rico is not going to become a state, definitely not. And only one political party in Puerto Rico is going on this plebiscite, is participating in this plebiscite. The rest of Puerto Rico is boycotting the plebiscite. That money, $10 million that will be spent on the plebiscite, could go into at least the education system. We could preserve some of those schools that are being closed. A hundred and sixty-nine public schools are going to be closed. Why not use that money to help those schools? That will be one of the questions that I will ask the governor of Puerto Rico right now. He has been asked. He has no answers.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if we can go back in time to your history, what politicized you, where you were born, how you came to head up the FALN, and then your 35 years in prison, how you survived there?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I was born in a very small farm in Puerto Rico. At age 14, I was sent to Chicago to live with my sister. I entered high school. I’m going to make a little story here, so you will probably see my politics.

When I was in high school in Chicago, the teacher asked the students to define a hero and why that person was a hero. So, I had been—when I entered elementary school in Puerto Rico at age 5, every day we would sing a song that would say George Washington was to be celebrated because he never, never said a lie. OK, so on that particular day, I said that George Washington was my hero, because he had never, never said a lie. And the students started laughing. I thought it was because of my English accent. When I stepped—when the class was over, a fellow student pulled me to the side, and he said, "Don’t you know that George Washington was a liar? You shouldn’t have said that." So, indoctrination was taking place in Puerto Rico in a very sophisticated, subtle way. I was deeply and profoundly, profoundly indoctrinated into believing that Puerto Rico could never be an independent country, that Puerto Rico could not be self-sufficient, that we will starve to death if the United States will walk out of Puerto Rico. That’s how I was influenced for the first 14 years in my life.

Then, in Chicago, I found myself facing things that I had never thought I would face—for example, discrimination for the first time, finding racism for the first time, a real, real blatant racism, and discrimination when I was trying to find a job. In the military, I also found the same, same practice. Yeah, there was racism. There was discrimination. So, when I came back home from Vietnam—and for some reason, Vietnam changed my way of life, my way of thinking. I came back from Vietnam, and I found myself obligated to find out what was the reason for being for the war in Vietnam. I found myself more sympathetic with the Vietnamese people than I thought that I would ever be. And little by little, I was starting to discover what Vietnam had done. For example, I discovered Dien Bien Phu, how the Vietnamese fought against the French, how they decolonized themselves. I came back to Chicago, and I found a community of Puerto—

AMY GOODMAN: You got a Bronze Star when you were there.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I got a Bronze Star for that.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your brother doing during this time?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Who?

AMY GOODMAN: Your brother.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: My brother? My brother was studying. But when I came back from Vietnam, I found a community, a Puerto Rican community, that was beginning to wake up, to demand to be seen, to be heard, to transcend its marginalization. And I started organizing in the community. At that time, the Young Lords were coming up out of Chicago. It was a street gang that became political. A lot of things were happening in 1967. For example, it was 1967 when Dr. Martin Luther King pronounced himself against the war in Vietnam and called it a criminal war. 1967 was when Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted. And he paid a big price.

And 1967 was the first time that I was invited by a nationalist, a Puerto Rican nationalist, to go to his house and listen to some tapes of the nationalists. And one of the tapes—one of the tapes was Lolita Lebrón, who had gone to Washington the 1st of March, 1954. And she said in that interview that she came to Washington not to kill anyone, but to give her life for Puerto Rico. And when I heard that woman say that, I was amazed. I was amazed. And from that moment on, we started working on the campaign to free the five. There were five Puerto Rican political prisoners. And from 1967 on, in Chicago, we started to organize a campaign for their release. By that time, Lolita Lebrón, Irvin Flores, Andres Figueroa Cordero, Rafael Cancel Miranda had been in prison for 13 years, and and Oscar Collazo López had been in prison for 17 years. And we believed that we should do something to win their release. And finally, in 1979, they were released from prison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, when you were in Chicago, you helped to start a school, didn’t you, in Chicago, that did—do I have it right? Luis Gutiérrez was a student at that school?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: No, Luis Gutiérrez was a tutor at the school.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, tutor.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: The now congressman.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Yes, yes. In 1972, we started an alternative high school for high school dropouts. I have been involved in the issue of education since 1967. We fought to get schools built in the community. We fought to bring bilingual education into the schools. We fought to open up the doors at the universities, especially University of Illinois Chicago Circle and Northeastern, universities where programs were implemented to allow Latino students, because it was not only Puerto Ricans, we were also involved in helping the Latino population in general. So, those programs still exist, the programs at University of Illinois, the program at Northeastern University and our high school. Our high school is a really, really, really interesting project. It was based on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And we were hoping that we would get dropouts, put them through a very rigorous educational system, and do it without any funds. What we did, we asked college professors to give us three hours for a class. And we—the students that were at the university, that we had helped to get into the university, we asked them to be tutors. And that’s how Congressman Gutiérrez got to be a tutor at the high school.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about going to prison and what it meant for you in prison. You were in solitary confinement for over 12 years?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I was in solitary confinement for 12 years, four months. And first, from 1986, June 1986, in Marion, USP Marion in Illinois, up ’til 1994, and then, from 1994 to November 1996 in ADX. In ADX, for the first 58 days, I was awakened every half-hour, 58 days straight. So that will give you an idea what it is to be in prison, to be under those conditions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the reasons for your being in prison, I mean, clearly, the big narrative that you’re seeing in the commercial media is this was a terrorist, this is a person who’s unrepentant, this is a person who never should be allowed to be out free again, is certainly not celebrated as a hero. The issue of the FALN’s campaign of bombings that occurred in that period of of time, your retrospectively looking back at that, how you view that campaign and how you feel about it now, and also the criticisms that some people have that you—that the organization participated in the killing of many innocent people?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: First of all, yeah, I want to make this point clear. I have never—for me, human life is precious. I was in Vietnam. I hope and I pray that I never—I never killed anyone. Now, we know. We know. But if you’re a soldier, you know when you have shot somebody, because there is a field of range that you’re covering. And on my path, I never saw anyone being wounded or killed. So, I can say that I came home from Vietnam without blood on my hands. I hope so. For me, the issue of human life, human life is precious. Now, I’ve been asked over and over about the bombings. I’ve been asked over and over what took place. I can guarantee one thing: that I have never participated in an act where a human life—where we knew that a human life was going to be put in jeopardy. OK?
Now, one thing that I want to make a very, very clear: Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico, as a colony, has every right—every right—to its independence. To its independence, it has every right. And by international law, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico can use—Puerto Ricans who want to decolonize Puerto Rico can use all the means at their disposal, including the use of force. I’m not advocating for that. Let’s make that clear. By 1992, by 1992, all of us who were in prison had taken a position that we will not—we will not promote violence, that we will not—we were not going to be active in violence. In 1999, mostly all my co-defendants were released. Up to this time, up to this time, almost 20 years later, there has not been a minute, not a single act, a criminal or any kind of violation committed by my co-defendants. That really should be the measuring point for anything. That should be the way that we should be seen. We left prison. We committed ourselves not to act violently. And thus far, no one can accuse us of doing so.

Now, had there been any evidence against any of us—any of us—I guarantee you that I wouldn’t be here today, because the federal judge, the federal judge we faced, he told us that if the law would allow it, he would sentence all of us to death, if the law would allow it. And that sometimes—that narrative is never talked about. But there’s a narrative. There’s a narrative. Colonialism is a crime against humanity. We have to be clear on that. And Puerto Ricans—Puerto Ricans, to tolerate colonialism, we are tolerating a crime. So, I think that it’s important to understand that we love Puerto Rico. I love my homeland. That’s my homeland. That’s my promised land. And the way I see it is that we have to decolonize Puerto Rico. Now, the issue of violence is no longer one that we will ever entertain or that we’ll ever promote. And let’s be clear on that, because I think that it’s important for people to know who we are, who we are as people, as human beings, because we love—we love our homeland. We also—we also love justice and freedom for the whole world.
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